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Kanye West Brings Out New Material at Surprise New York Show

Performance at Adult Swim Upfronts party includes an Auto-Tuned love song for Kim Kardashian

May 16, 2013 7:30 AM ET
Kanye West performs at the Adult Swim Upfront Party 2013 at Roseland Ballroom in New York City.
Kanye West performs at the Adult Swim Upfront Party 2013 at Roseland Ballroom in New York City.
Dimitrios Kambouris/WireImage

Kanye West played a sweetly eccentric Auto-Tuned love song and a snippet of a second new tune – both presumably from his sixth solo LP, expected out June 18th – and railed against paparazzi at last night's Adult Swim Upfronts party, held at midtown Manhattan's Roseland Ballroom.

The new material was part of a career-spanning hour-plus set that West performed for a well-heeled crowd of representatives from the TV and advertising industries. The event, which was kept secret from the general public until word got out yesterday afternoon, was the rap superstar's second invite-only performance in New York this month, after he hit the Met Ball on May 6th.

Kanye West Debuts New Music at Met Gala

West took the stage at Roseland shortly before 11 p.m., standing tall inside of a 3D pyramid-shaped projection screen flanked by enormous arena-scale speakers. After opening with dramatic renditions of last year's singles "Mercy" and "Cold," he offered a brief taste of an unreleased song, shouting heatedly over a grinding, almost industrial instrumental.

A few songs later, he introduced another new tune that couldn't have been more different. This one – which he played for the first time at the Met Ball – began with soulful College Dropout-style piano chords before resolving into a heavily Auto-Tuned romantic ballad. "Why would you ever listen to the people trying to hate on you?" he sang, in what was almost certainly a heartfelt message to girlfriend Kim Kardashian, adding, "Baby, you're awesome / Don't let nobody bring you down / You're so awesome . . . I'd rather do nothing with you than something with somebody new." Perhaps unshockingly, the "Awesome" song was also a bit of a love letter to West himself: At another point, he sang, "Baby, I'm awesome also / I'm also awesome, also."

This gooey display of affection felt like a pointed response to tabloid rumors of tension between the expectant couple (their first child is due in July). West took aim at the press even more directly during a long half-spoken, half-sung riff later in the show. "I'm a terrible, terrible, terrible celebrity," West said over the mournful outro of "Clique." "I'm the worst kind, 'cause all I do is make real music. All I do is sit in the studio and make real shit. And that's motherfucking it!" Despite this, he went on, mercenary photographers still hound him and Kardashian in pursuit of an easy buck – "motherfuckers chasing you down, about to make you crash." On a semi-related tangent, he insisted, "I ain't a motherfucking politician. I'm not kissing any babies. I'll drop your baby!" Finally, his voice rose and cracked a little as he pled with the public: "Don't ask nothing else of me!"

Overall, the show was a whirlwind tour through West's back catalog, every verse delivered with a precise sting. After he closed out the main set with the buoyant sequence of "Good Life," "All Falls Down" and "Stronger," huge billows of smoke rolled out over the crowd as lightning flashed and thunder crashed on the pyramid screen. West returned moments later with an unexpected cover of Rihanna's "Diamonds" – first rapping his cocky lyrics from the remix, then unfurling Rihanna's main hook in a slow, woozy tone as partygoers threw up Roc-A-Fella diamonds. After lingering over an extended rendition of his self-chastising anthem "Runaway," he finished his encore just after midnight.

West is set to perform on Saturday Night Live's season finale this weekend; three weeks later, on June 9th, he will headline the Governor's Ball festival in New York. If last night's performance was meant to create the impression that he's ready for a bigger tour in the near future, it succeeded.

Set List:
"Mercy"
"Cold"
New song snippet
"Can't Tell Me Nothing" 
"Power"
"Jesus Walks"
"Say You Will"
New song ("Baby You're Awesome")
"Heartless"
"Flashing Lights"
"All of the Lights"
"Clique"
"Don't Like"
"Good Life"
"All Falls Down"
"Stronger"
(encore break)
"Diamonds"
"Runaway"

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